Content Warning: The following article mentions suicide and gender-based violence, which may be upsetting.
This has spoilers for don’t worry darling. If you particularly care to watch a hollow white feminist version of The Truman Showgo ahead and rush to your local theater then come back and read this.
When I walked into the New 400 Theater on September 23 to see don’t worry darling, my expectations were already low. For example, my sanity once in the fourth week of term hit a low. This was mainly because of the film’s sensational press tour, riddled with headlines ranging from rumors and controversial interview responses to the alleged spitting seen around the world. The other fraction of my doubts was fed by a latent memory of Harry Styles in suspenders and a wide-brimmed hat… How could I take the film seriously with this photo floating in my subconscious?
With my expectations on the ground, it was hard for me to anticipate the film’s big “twist”: that the idyllic 1950s-style suburb of Victory would be a virtual reality where men like Jack (Harry Styles) trap their partners, like Alice (Florence Poug).
The film’s male characters are portrayed as feeling emasculated by their real-world partners, and are later drawn to the rhetoric adopted by Frank (Chris Pine) via podcasts. They then incapacitate their female partners, bind them, and force their subconscious into the virtual reality that Frank has built.
Although the film’s actual story may have been overshadowed by bad press, Cameron Chang, a sophomore at the Northwestern School of Communication, says the premise isn’t without merit in reality.
“I guess it’s true what the movie said,” Chang said. “A lot of men really want to control the women in their lives, in some way, if they’re not getting what they want or if they’re not the breadwinner in their household or their relationship. ”
The movie seems to offer the same suggestion: Victory’s men all report to Frank and defer to him as leader. This chain of deference continues into the domestic sphere, as women in Victory are expected to support men with warm food, sweet words, and a comforting embrace.
I did my best not to yawn in the room when the premise of the film became clear. It’s about women and men, who are white and presumably cisgender, and their positions within the cisteropatriarchy. Wow. It’s almost like I’ve never seen anything like it before.
Declan Franey, a sophomore in the School of Communication, added that it’s not don’t worry darling lack of nuance is the number of times he has watched the same email echo in other movies.
“It’s been a topic for so many years and definitely feels like a conversation that’s had a lot,” Franey said. “So it’s kind of like, why was this done? What does this add to the conversation?
Case in point: In public conversation recently, Hulu has The Handmaid’s Tale (2017), based on the original novel by Margaret Atwood, set in a dystopian society where women are forced into homes as “reproductive surrogates” and are completely stripped of their agency. The series was initially criticized for centering white women on the victims of a system of sexual violence that women of color have been subjected to in real life for decades.
Power hierarchies and dynamics don’t worry darling don’t examine the nuance of the intersection between race and gender. The majority of Victory’s wives are white women. There are exceptions, like Margaret (KiKi Layne), who realized she was being held captive early in the film and killed herself in a bloody sequence of shots.
The theater quieted down as laughter about Harry Styles’ acting was suddenly sucked from the room in seconds. Men in red uniforms snatched up Margaret’s body and she was never seen again. My chest warmed when I realized that her death was relegated to a plot point for Alice’s character development – and later her escape – from both Jack and the virtual world of Victory.
My reaction to this appalling scene was not unique. Elshadai Aberra, a second year at communications school, said Margaret’s death had left them and their friends unsettled.
“The way they executed that plot, I feel like it was violent,” Aberra says. “She was the victim who was ignored.”
The assumption that extreme misogyny and gender-based violence are exclusively linked to whiteness overlooks the notion that anyone can be affected, according to Dr. Saed Hill. Hill is a counseling psychologist and associate director of prevention and male engagement at the Center for Awareness, Response, and Education (CARE) on campus.
“I’ve had students come to me and say it’s hard to address these issues within our own [Northwestern] community because it feels like a lot of people are treating it like it’s a white issue or a white community issue,” Hill said. “We kind of have this idea of what a victim is and what they look like. Or what a survivor looks like, or what an abuser looks like and what communities they belong to.
stories like The Handmaid’s Tale and don’t worry darling attempt to make a statement about patriarchy, but that statement is only at the surface level. Yes, some men turn to radicalization to assuage feelings of emasculation. And yes, these ideas reinforce the larger, all-encompassing structure of patriarchy. But in the United States, patriarchy is intimately linked and reinforced by racism.
Olivia Wilde, director of Don’t worry darling, said she was looking to create a film about “being ready to blow up the system that serves you”. How can I blow up a system that’s burying me? Is the real message of the film that I, a black woman, should accept my own fate as a sacrificial lamb used to fan the flames of a white woman’s fire, about to ignite the patriarchy? And how will I know that my own story, and the stories of other women of color, won’t turn to ashes as well?